Camp Hosting: Stories and Lessons

Most of our time spent fulfilling our camp-hosting duties this round were in the “Monkey House”. This is the park staff’s nickname for the entrance station and it’s easy to imagine why. The front comprises mostly window and when you are inside you are on display to everyone entering and leaving the park.

It’s been many years since I’ve worked in a more service-related role dealing with the general public, and the time spent there has blessed us with a number of experiences and life lessons.

General Duties

  • Welcoming campers
    There are essentially two types of campers; those that planned ahead and those that didn’t. Those that plan ahead have reservations and when they appear at our window we give them their entrance & campsite tags, give them a map and let them know when checkout times are.  When someone shows up without a reservation we can either find them an open spot or put them into overflow camping depending on how full the park is. Usually in this case we have them pull over and come to the outbound-side of the entrance station so we can keep the incoming lane free. In order to be able to do the latter we had to learn to use the park Point of Sale (POS) system to search for open sites, fill in customer profiles, and book sites. We also had to learn the rules for reservation fees, number of vehicles allowed, and lengths of stay. We had to learn how to extend stays, cancel portions of a stay, and transfer sites mid-stay. Some of the park rules are enforced by the POS and some are not.
  • Welcoming day-users
    Our park has over 30 miles of multi-use trails (some of which are quite popular), an archery range, ranger-led programs, picnic areas and playgrounds. Some of the programs - like full-moon hikes - are incredibly popular and will have traffic lined up for 1/4 mile coming in. Day users either have an annual pass (which we just swipe on the POS to record their visit) or pay a daily fee each time. There are different entrance fees for different activities. We had to learn to sell and renew annual passes, make trail recommendations, promote upcoming programs, etc. We had to keep a cash drawer, do some record-keeping outside the POS, and balance out at the end of the shift.

Shaking Our Heads
While those were the general duties, since we were dealing with the general public in great numbers there were a number moments where MsBoyink and I would just look at each other and shake our heads. Here are some of the situations we experienced first-hand (there were more interesting ones that we heard about second-hand, but want to keep this post from treading into hearsay waters):

  • Parakeet-man
    A small red truck pulls up to the window. The male driver is sporting a fedora and what looks at like a vest. He wants to take a photo of a nearby mountain range that is outside our park, and is obviously not wanting to pay the entrance fee. When I say that the best angle of that mountain range would require a short walk on one of our trails, he declines, saying “He’s not such a great hiker”. At this point a loose parakeet appears on his shoulder, and what we thought was a vest is rather an adult-bib to prevent the parakeet from pooping on his good shirt.
  • What to wear?
    An older couple appears at the window and indicates they are going for a hike. The man - who has to be in his 70’s - asks if he should wear his coat.
  • Shade-predictor
    A couple of women who I’d estimate to be in their 60’s are at the window, wanting to do a 7-mile long trail that goes around the large mountain in our park (and a trail that we have yet to do and probably won’t).  They want to know which way to go around for the most amount of shade. I had to answer “I’m sorry but that’s a highly technical computation involving sunrise times, walking speeds and sun angles that I’m currently unable to do for you”.
  • There’s a fee?
    Coming into the park you first pass a small sign that says “Entrance Fee Required” and then in front of the entrance station is a large (as in ‘blocks most of our view’ large) sign with the schedule of entrance fees. At least once per shift someone will roll up to the window and appear completely baffled that they would have to pay to come into the park.
  • Not DOG POOP!
    This park is home to deer, coyote, desert tortoises, and javelina.  All of which, at some point, poop. And not always “off-trail”. Yet we had one person in particular come and complain about encountering dog poop on the trail. And wanted more signs telling owners to clean it up.
  • $8
    When you reserve a site in the campground and that reservation starts more than 24 hours out there is an $8 reservation fee. The fee is applied once no matter if you book for 1 night or 14, but there have been some changes in how it’s applied vs. how the POS tries to enforce it. We had a couple come in driving a newer Class A motorhome towing a nice SUV, pull into our overflow parking lot. He disconnected his toad and got things situated a bit, then came over to arrange his stay. When he learned of the $8 reservation fee for his further-out bookings he got irate and left our window, intending to go get all hooked up and drive on again. We realized the fee was being applied incorrectly so went over to talk to him and he ended up staying but still voiced all kinds of issues with the fee including an insinuation that we workers were on some kind of commission deal.
  • How Long?
    We get asked quite often “how long does that trail take?” - and while we understand the question still find it funny (“how fast do you walk?”).
  • Can I shoot my gun here?
    Yes, with 30 miles of trails busy with hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders (not to mention a full campground) this would be an excellent place to shoot your gun (good thing we are across the road from a shooting range and adjacent to the Tonto National Forest where this is allowed).
  • Can I just bring my stuff here?
    A man pulls up to the window in one of the little Gator-like utility vehicles. Dressed in overalls and no shirt, and while holding back his rather aggressive-looking Rottweiler he asks if we have camping here and is there a dump station. We answer yes, and he asks “So I can just bring all my stuff up?”.  When we say that we’d have to see if there were open spots in the campground and that it’s $25 a night he shakes his head, pulls a u-turn and leaves.
  • Where’s Golf?
    A man alone in a car pulls up and just says “Where’s golf?”. Not “Hi - I think I’m lost”. Not “Hi -is there a golf course around here?”  We’re not golfers, so don’t really know. Disappointed he turns and leaves.

Faith in Humanity Restored
It wouldn’t be a complete post if we only focused on the oddballs. During most shifts we had a number of pleasant interactions with people coming in. Many would notice the Michigan plates on our truck and talk to us about being from the midwest. A few made comment about being surprised finding “such young people” working in this capacity and it allowed us to talk about becoming a fulltime traveling family and those conversations were overwhelmingly favorable about our choice.

A couple other situations also came about:

  • Where’s Ours?
    A couple from Iowa drove up to the booth just as MsBoyink took a bite of peanut butter sandwich and asked where theirs was. This became a running gag for a few weeks as we’d see them either in the campground or as they came into the park. One night I came back from a walk to find a car parked in our site and recognized the Iowa plates. The husband was inside the trailer talking to MsBoyink - they were leaving in the morning and he just came to say goodbye but also complimented us on our kids. At 7:30 the next morning they gave a toot on their motorhome horn as they drove out.
  • Take Me With You!
    The boy and I were blessed with a kayaking adventure that all started as an off-the-cuff interchange between myself and an incoming camper.

Lessons Learned
I worked through college in retail stores - so while I’ve spent a lot of time being “the guy behind the counter” it’s been many years since then.

  • It Doesn’t Take Much
    It really doesn’t take much effort to make what is otherwise a pretty mundane interaction fun. A simple “welcome home” to campers coming back in the park was enough to get a smile and even some comments on.
  • The Eyes Have It
    This is the one I was personally convicted on. I had many people not even look at my face in general, or more directly in the eyes while interacting with me. Some people pulled up to the window while talking on the phone and wouldn’t hardly even acknowledge us being there. I realized that to be on the receiving end of that type of treatment is discouraging and humiliating. Worse - I realized that in similar situations I was the offender - not taking the time to thank cashiers, baggers, and checkouts and look them in the eye while doing so. I’ve since tried to do better at that.

So there you have it - tales from the camphosting monkey house.

Msboyink monkeying around

Msboyink monkeying around

3 Comments Camp Hosting: Stories and Lessons

  1. Picture of Marci & Tom Marci & Tom March 12, 2013

    Great post, and very insightful!

  2. Picture of Tim Watson Tim Watson March 13, 2013

    Love the stories. Too bad we missed you guys, I guess we will just have to keep traveling until we cross paths again.

    What is the story behind the park logo? We were overjoyed when we found we could purchase one in decal form.

  3. Picture of Boyink Boyink March 13, 2013

    I’m afraid I don’t have the complete story on that. We initially thought it was a gecko or something then found out it was a mountain lion.  My daughter says it’s from a petroglyph in another park - possibly the Petrified Forest.

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